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One of the Hardest Choices, Ever

15 Jan

A few things have happened since November. The biggest and the biggest sec. 2 are these:

1. I got a fantastic job. It’s creative, it’s challenging, it’s organized, it’s a small office with cool people and there’s even a beer nerd among us. It’s pretty much the best job aside from the irritating commute a whole three or four miles west that manages to take about 45 minutes on a good day (city living for you). Still, the good far outweighs the bad and it’s the first time I’ve been happy in my work since the brief window of early 2013 before I realized I was working for a horrible, abusive narcissist clothed in a generous person’s designer jacket.

2. I was proposed to, and I accepted. I am getting married in June and even typing that sentence, no matter how many times I do it, still somehow feels quite foreign. It’s not that I am one of those people who thought they’d never marry, I guess I just never thought about the possibility much at all. Perhaps it’s because I was dating the entirely wrong guys, but it wasn’t anything I put stock into with regards to my personal future. Now though, well, it’s very happening and it’s freaking awesome.

But there’s a problem. A big one. No, it’s not the caterer or the dress or the bridesmaids or a mother in law (who is excellent, btw). It’s this: I have to choose beer to serve at our reception. I know, I know.

We’re having it in a raw space where we hire out/bring in everything. Our caterer isn’t handling drinks for us aside from supplying the bartender (Illinois state law prohibits anyone unlicensed from doing it, whatever that means) so we have to do that ourselves. We’ve decided on one red (Pinot Noir? Cab Sav? sure) one white (Sav Blanc, Pinot Gris? whatever), one bubbles, a bottle of Malort because we’re in Chicago, a bottle of mead for the wedding party, and beer. Beer… three kinds of beer. Now here we have the serious quandary.

\crickets

We went from Schlitz to High Life to Coors Banquet (which really is pretty good) and that’s about as far as I got. I say “I” because between us, I am the beer nerd and he knows it. Personally, I freaking love Ale Syndicate’s Sunday Session. It’s light, unfiltered, smooth, just…heavenly. It’s only slightly hoppy but very drinkable and low in alcohol (open bar, folks). It’s a no-brainer and it WILL be featured, hell or high water. But then we have the third beer. Now, I am the only person I know who drinks dark beers year round. I will also admit that black IPAs probably freak a lot of folks out – much like the bartender I spoke to last weekend who wrote off Stone’s Master of Disguise Imperial Golden Stout (WHAT?! I know, I know. You have to try it) because he, “couldn’t get [his] head around it”. What? Dude, your job is to think critically. That stuff is bananas and you’re wrong for walking away from it. I think most people feel that way about black ales, actually. Anyway, that leaves a lot open. I took it to my fellow beer nerds and many suggested Half Acre Daisy Cutter (last time I tried it, I gave it a meh) or Revolution’s Anti-Hero. Everyone loves hops. Everyone but me. Temperance, you need to bottle. If you did, there would be no other brewery there because everything you do is just fantastic. Alas.

Sunday Session is unfiltered so I don’t want a wheat. I personally don’t love reds or ambers and while the future Mr. likes pilsners, I am not into them. Now, I grant you, I probably won’t be drinking beer that day so I should not put too much stock in it, but the fact is that most everyone knows that I am the beer dork between us and that puts a certain pressure on me to rep. Rye IPA? Ok, that’s interesting. Stout? No Guinness. Porter? No one is going to want a delicious, thick porter on a June day (stupids), no sours, no lambics, and while interesting, probably no ciders. Well, maybe a few ciders but not enough to make up 30% of the beer list since people rarely drink more than a few in a session.

I have no idea what to provide. All we agreed on was to try to keep it local if possible and nothing too hoppy. So, my girl beer group is going to pitch in next month or the month after when we do a BYO and everyone brings at least one offering that gets their vote (while following the parameters above, regarding what we already have). I promise you, I have already spent more time on this post and in this conversation than I have about my dress, bridesmaids, colors, or the groom. This is serious business and I have no idea what to do.

Suggestions? Leave them here. I can use them and I’ll add them to our BYO. Help. Me.

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Are Craft Beer Events the New BaconFest?

4 Nov

There have been a flurry of articles lately surrounding the rocket rise of craft beers in the US which have some of us wondering if this is just yet another trend to witness and release a la all things bacon.

Some weekends ago, I received free tickets to a beer tasting here in Chicago. It was at a ballroom / concert venue and they managed to fill about 90% of the huge space with vendor tables. We were given about three hours to make our ways through “for 10 tastings” but no one ever checks those punch cards so we were pretty much at an open bar for three hours. I took my girl Maria with me, who is in my ladies’ craft beer group She’s Crafty. We beelined for a few familiars then wandered into the cider room where we had some truly tremendous offerings (my tasting notes are below). After that, we tried a few others before going upstairs to the local breweries’ tables. Part of the time was spent trying really cool, weird beers, and other parts were spent networking in hopes of finding the next location for one of our She’s Crafty meetings. Because of that, we found ourselves talking to those doing the pouring much more than making sure we hit every table to sample their wears. The best of intentions paving the way to hell and all, the more we talked, the more they gave us and the more we drank so before I knew it, the time was up and we were drunk. I did manage to make some great connections though and added a few spots to the “must do” event locations. That to me, is what tasting events are for: discover new, fun brews and make some connections and friends. Not everyone sees them for that though, sometimes folks just want to get drunk (I dare say, under the guise of a classier-sounding “beer tasting” than “openbarfuckyeah”).

There was a bar here in Chicago seven or eight years ago, and I’ve heard of others doing this since, that offered cheap or free baskets of bacon during “happy hour”*. I got way, way up on my highest horse about that and waved my fist in the air about how bacon isn’t your whore and if you truly love it, you won’t put it on the street corner and hand it out to every single person that has a yen for it. Treat it with respect, don’t give it away. By making it common – hell, even free – its intrinsic value is taken down to the floor. Suddenly we have bacon lip balm and bacon wrapping paper. In short: a trend.

Craft beer has been eeking its way towards that same descriptor for a while now, but in the last two years or so, Chicago at least, has simply exploded with new breweries and shows no signs of stopping. This is great, right? More yummy beers to explore? More people to get really into the scene and create more conversation? In theory, yes. In reality, we see a lot of Lyle Lanleys coming in, bringing their IPAs, ales, and over-the-top flavors with them. Suddenly it’s put on the street corner and next thing you know, craft beer tastings with 150 vendors that include the likes of Blue Moon and the “artisanal” division of MillerCoors lines up next to the guy who brews with his buddy in the basement that managed to get a four-bar distribution deal set up. For the record: Blue Moon and MillerCoors better bring something really cool and interesting to the party in order to compete with that guy. True beer folks can see right through those shenanigans pretty quickly. For instance, did you know that MillerCoors is behind Redd’s Apple Ale? I see that stuff everywhere and I’ll admit, it’s actually pretty tasty, as is their Belgian offering, St. Stefanis. What? You didn’t know those were made by a beer company giant because nowhere on the label does it tell you so? Interesting…

Last week, I received a Facebook invite to join yet another beer event. It has “Chicago” in the title however, it occurs in a suburb 20 miles away with no direct way to get to the venue via public transit. Chicago is a city of  almost three million people, with over a quarter of whom don’t own vehicles. While our public transit system is pretty good (minus the crucial ability to traverse north to south without going all the way to the far east in order to do it), it does not extend to that particular area. In this case, the promoters used the city’s name for allure but haven’t thought much beyond that. In my kinda humble opinion, that is a good metaphor for what happens when something that takes such time, effort, and art, becomes fodder for “foodies”. I suspect a Food Network show about a brewery isn’t too far behind.

I love the opportunity to try new things, particularly when its beers that are hard to find in an area or within a few bars’ radius. I am all for that kind of blitz learning. In fact, tomorrow my sweetheart and I are going to take advantage of a free day and head over to Small Bar. This particular establishment is closing soon, another victim of the kind of gentrification that happens when a formerly neighborhood-cool area succumbs to the oontz oontz douchebag crowd and jeopardizes the vibe so many came to love. They were over it, and rather than fight for a stronghold on a block that is now more interested in Irish car bombs and Jaeger shots, they’re packing up with their dignity in tact. This is great news for the scavengers, in a lot of ways. My man doesn’t know a lot about beer and wants to, and bars like Small Bar are perfect for daytime sit-and-sip sessions. Their bartenders are about turning people on and getting them excited, not just drunk. So we’ll do a little tour, sip some interesting items, and I’ll take some more notes. I hate that we’re losing another one to a street that’s changing for the worse, but I’d rather see them go out on top with a Local Option Morning Wood than a $15 Bud Light pitcher special. With that, I will leave you with some tasting notes and suggestions for your next trip to the local booze house. But before you do that, patronize your local fancy beer bar. They may not be around for long.

BeerHoptacular 2014 tasting notes (less descriptors as beer flowed on, but I had the wherewithal to write it down so it counts):beer notes

Cider:
Seattle Cider – incredibly tasty and dry, maybe my favorite or def. top 3 ever. 16 oz. cans
* Dry Cider, 0 brix
* Pumpkin Spice, 2 brix
DeMunck’s – Southern Tier makes a cider! Super tasty, crisp, dry.
Virtue -Lapinette has serious funk. Gorgeous, soft cheese funk. Brettanomyces! Yiss!

Beer:
Dry Hop – More Stories than JD Got Salinger. 6% ABV, garam masala what!
Spiteful – Abbey single, beer bread caraway. Freedom Fries – nice stout
Begyle – pretty much everything they do rules (female brewer! new brew facility soon!)
Marz – What The Pho porter, 6.5%. They ONLY beer we had twice. Freaking amazing, pho spices! Weird, man!
Blue Moon (yeah, I know) – Horchata wheat. Freaking horchata and beer. Better than I wanted it to be. Test market.
Ale Syndicate – local darlings, everything they do is great and their branding is awesome

And then we ate all the cheese leftover on the Whole Foods table, made friends with some dude pouring the last of his dark beer, grabbed a t-shirt off a bench, ran into some friends and went across the street for another one. Frankly, it ended on a light note considering how often and easy it is to just keep going and going. The afternoon tasting is always going to be way less of a shit show than night, since the night time ones are the ones no one has anything to live for and the brewers are going neck and neck with the jamokes. It’s ridiculous fun if you get the right mix of folks involved.

Real Surly

1 Mar

Hi there. I’m still gathering my notes from Cleveland, they were rather extensive, so once I have them in some order I’ll post. Also, IT’S FINALLY MARCH! March 2012 was the warmest on record in Chicago and while it’s snowing as I type this, I know that by the end of this month something will be blooming and that first whiff of spring air will send everybody bouncing happily around town. Fingers crossed, everybody.

Today I want to talk about a brewery called Surly because tomorrow at 2pm I will be entering a bar three blocks north and ordering several of their best option: Coffee Bender. The anticipation is causing me to watch the clock like it’s the last day of school and I’m making myself nuts. Especially because it’s Saturday night, it’s only 7 pm, and I have no plans.

surly_girl_logoA little back story: Surly is a lovely, rather small brewery just outside of Minneapolis. I had the great fortune to visit last December and it was one of the better tours and tastings I’ve been to. They’re tucked away in a neighborhood right off a major highway but you might as well be in the sticks. No curbs and gutters, pickup trucks, etc. but as it happens, that brewery has ingrained themselves with their neighbors and the city, maybe even the state, to the point that they pulled out of the major market of Chicago just so they could keep up demand in their hometown. How stand up is that! They had to pass a new law or two that would allow them to build an on-site tasting room next to the brewery which will change the way Minnesota brews from now on. They cleared the location and myriad concerns with their neighbors, and continue to seal the deal by throwing block parties wherein they supply the food and drink, all in surrounding blocks attend. They help with snow removal and small municipal hitches, all to keep the peace. Everybody wins. It might be one of the happiest blocks on earth.

Surly is no different from every other brewery you may have toured. They put the mouthiest, funniest guy on staff in charge of the tours and let him go, beer in hand (and encourages you to get one too, he’ll even give you a break halfway through to let you pee and get another). He dons the standard-issue brewery work shirt with his name stitched on, he tells stories about the build, the equipment, the area, the laws, how their wives and girlfriends are as much to thank for support as the people who drink the beer, and how everyone else’s jobs sure must suck because he gets to do this. Aside from particular elements akin to each brewery, those talks are almost always the same. Every now and again you get someone talking about how beer is made, where it comes from, etc. but the better tours contain the stories of inception (most of which begin with one guy’s burping, bubbling, amateur system in his basement and its ensuing disasters).

Centrifugal force filtration system at Surly Brewing, Minneapolis

Centrifugal force filtration system at Surly Brewing, Minneapolis

There will always be those guys, too. D&D dorks of beer, and you can spot them in every crowd. They wait until the exact moment to ask about canning vs. bottling, hop varietals and shortages, centrifugal filtration systems (hot), water purification methods, malt roasting times, etc. and they are at every single brewery. You get the feeling that, right along with the brewers, these were science club dorks that never really found a niche until they discovered very good beer. And you know what? I admire them, they found a cool, somewhat mainstream outlet that lets them truly nerd out and make people happy in the process. Good on you, geeks.

T2013-11-30 17.41.43he taproom is fairly standard, metal tube furniture and high top tables, a few flat screen televisions on the wall, tile floor, and that rust red paint on the walls. A wooden bar with two sets of tap lines, and a big room of merch for sale off to one side. The tap list I’m sure rotates regularly but when I was there, they were definitely preparing for winter. Lots of stouts, dark ales, spices, chilis, and smoke. I had the Dumpster Fire which while very interesting was way too chili heavy for the pint that was served (12 oz or snifter, I’d have suggested), and in truth I choked down the last three ounces. I also had the Misanthrope which for you sour fans, is probably the beer you’ve been waiting for your whole lives. And while I know for sure I had one more and knowing me it was probably dark, I can’t tell you which. My friend Martin had three I didn’t have, so all together I tried the majority of the list. We here in Chicago get Furious regularly now so I didn’t bother with it (not my favorite).

Enter: my favorite, Coffee Bender (5.1 ABV, $6 16 oz can). This beer has all the things I want in life, at 10 am on a Tuesday. It tastes first and foremost, like coffee. Cold pressed, Coffee_Benderamazing quality coffee. Then the malty, mildly hoppy brown ale comes in. The creamy head acts like the crema from an expertly-pulled cup of espresso. Every sip elicits a sexy half-closed eyelid and a languid, “Mmmmmmmm” from my softening posture. It is a beer I want to slow dance with. It’s rich while being effervescent, slow while delivering that definite coffee punch, and if it was socially acceptable I would pour an entire pint can into my to go mug rather than the brewed Kenya I have in the container on my counter. Truly, it is one of the most beloved beers on my Top Five Desert Island Beers List. It’s not always easy to find, but I completely recommend seeking it out because if you love coffee, if you love dark beers, and if you love America, this is the beer you’ve been searching for and never even knew it.

Find it in your area at Beer Menus (but change the location, that’s set for Chicago). The prices can be shocking, though I suspect it’s cheaper in your neck of the woods, thanks to Chicago’s taxes. Our prices range anywhere from $6-9 per pint can, and four packs anywhere from $10.99 – $16.99.

Next up: I can finally let you in on a secret that’s been in the works for almost a year! Ladies in Chicago who love beer, drop me a line with your contact information or keep an eye out. We have you covered (finally)!

Returning to the Mothership

13 Feb

simpsonsHey remember when I used to drink beers and write about them? Remember when I was all clever and daring and would photograph
my haul then go into detail about whatever I was testing that week? That was fun wasn’t it? Remember that? Yeahhh.

So here we are again, empty promises and teasing. But this time: WITH BEERS. So, my employment status has recently changed and I have all this free time. Free time accompanied by not much funds and horrible weather, albeit. So I’ve been consciously trying to keep myself from drinking my face off every day in spite of a strong desire to, and up until recently spent many an afternoon hunting job boards and reaching the end of the internet. That is, until an amazing benefactor offered me a trip to Cleveland if I buy the ticket. I giddily accepted, and now I am plotting my haul.

In addition to the stalking and capture of Willoughby Brewing Company’s Peanut Butter Cup Porter which will be downed in quantity at the coolest bar/hot dog joint I’ve ever encountered, Happy Dog, I will be stopping at two of my favorite go-to beer shops and putting as many interesting single bottles as I can into a box to bring home with me on the Megabus. According to the friendly customer service agent, the bus is barely half full which means they shouldn’t give me too much grief for bringing an extra carry on. There’s also some new beer restaurant emporium called World of Beers which is apparently a chain, and while that raises a certain lame-o red flag, their list is fairly interesting. There are some pedestrian offerings because you have to have those, but there are some pretty solid ones as well. Buckeye Beer Engine is another favorite, particularly because their list is always changing and they have my beloved 4 oz. tasters that they are always happy to dole out. The staff is incredibly knowledgeable and up for a chat if they aren’t too busy.

And there you have it. The initial list. It just so happens that I will be in Cleveland over a long holiday weekend however, everyone goes back to work on Tuesday and Wednesday so there I am with time to kill. I know by now I’m full of empty promises and 2013 was the year of the letdown but friends, in this noble endeavor I shall not fail you. If you want to keep track of me in real time, friend me on Untappd. My handle there is MoneyPenny, and I’ll also be updating on Twitter from time to time throughout the weekend at Amour_de_Porc, though Untappd will be every beer instead of every bar. When it’s all said and done, I’ll compile my beer list and tasting notes here.

Also, and this is a post for another day, I’m slowly amassing a list of local ladies to form a beer tasting and appreciation society. No name yet and a handful of slogans, but our logo is being created as we speak and we hope our first official meeting will happen in April. Chicago Ladies if you’re out there and you want in, drop a line and I’ll be happy to add you.

Talk soon, beers sooner.

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